Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death by James Runcie
published 2012 story 5 The Lost Holbein
This was a man who clearly took great pains over his appearance. He was the same height as Sidney, with an angular, matinee-idol jawline and luxuriant silver hair that, despite needing a cut, had been groomed in a manner designed to make bald men tremble. He was dressed in a handmade three-piece suit, with both tie and pocket handkerchief in matching navy blue; while his steel-rimmed pince-nez and silver accessories – cufflinks, fob watch and tie-pin – had all been chosen to set off his coiffure. He greeted his guest with manners that were so practised that they came without effort. ‘Canon Chambers, how very good of you to come; you’ll take a dry sherry, I presume…’
‘That would be most kind,’ Sidney answered. There was no point making a fuss.
observations: This is Lord Teversham, local nob. Sidney is the Canon of Grantchester, amateur detective, in a series of stories set in the 1950s; apparently there are to be six novels. As with many works of fiction set in the past, it seems the author has researched his facts – careful mention of current events, sporting results and music – but is not very good on the feel of the era. A character uses the phrase ‘break the mould’ with a meaning it did not have till the 1980s, and the conversations and manners shown do not ring true. In the above example: the host’s manners are not practised and effortless – they are bad. It feels mean to be harsh about these stories, but the plots are screamingly unlikely AND the solutions incredibly obvious, which is quite an achievement, (the best – unsolved – mystery in the book is what this means: ‘a woman who made 60 toffees for her husband every week’). I don’t think there is much to attract a hardcore, serious detective fan, this is no Father Brown. But perhaps others will enjoy them, and the subsequent books may be better. And by the way, we are forever being told that reputable publishers – as opposed to self-publishers – stand for good editing and writing. This book is published by Bloomsbury, and Mr Runcie is a respectable well-known writer. Did nobody notice that (on my Kindle) one of the most famous lines of English poetry is misquoted in there, in the story called ‘A Matter of Time’? Shameful.
Links up with: A more outrageous cleric here, the wives and daughters of vicars here and here. Take a look at a much, much better-characterized and more real canon dealing with crime – also with a 1950s setting but written at the time.
The photo is of movie star Gary Cooper, from Wikimedia Commons.